LEADERS ARE MADE, NOT BORN
1998 by William A. Cohen
rights reserved, but may be quoted or reproduced with attribution.
This article appeared first in Network World, December 21, 1998 and an abbreviated version in The Journal of Accountancy June, 1999
There are many well-educated and motivated people who lack the knowledge
of how to lead others. So they
donít assume leadership positions, or if they do, they donít do very well in
them. They and others too, assume that these individuals just werenít born to
Thatís really a tragedy, because our country and our people need good
leaders. Corporations, associations, and athletic teams all need good leaders.
Even parents must be good leaders or their families can become dysfunctional. It
is hardly an exaggeration to say that our very success as a nation depends upon
But my research shows conclusively that effectiveness as a leader depends
less on some innate trait you are born with, and much more on specific
principles that anyone can follow.
One of our greatest military leaders was General Hoyt S. Vandenberg. He
eventually became the U.S. Air Forceís second Chief of Staff.
General Robert Danforth who was Commandant of Cadets at West Point when
General Vandenberg was a cadet told me an amazing story. ďGeneral Vandenberg
was not a natural leader. In fact, we almost dismissed him from the Academy for
lack of leadership ability at the end of his first year. Instead, we counseled
him. He took note and applied himself. He was a very competent leader by the
time he graduated. Clearly he continued to develop himself afterwards.Ē
What are the principles you must follow? They come directly from my
research. They so clearly stood out from the more than 200 leaders that I
interviewed, that I call them ďThe Eight Universal Laws of Leadership.Ē They
are simple . . . but as you will see, they are not always so easy to follow.
Maintain absolute integrity. Leadership is a trust. If
others donít trust you completely, they will not follow you in every instance.
Instead, they will try to decide each situation on its own merits, whether to
trust you or not. If the environment you are in is relatively calm, you may be
able to lead without too much difficulty. But if your situation requires you to
make real demands on others, at a time when you must really depend on them, they
will hesitate to support you. Then the lack of complete trust will be apparent
and may well cause you to fail.
Know your stuff. If you are the leader, those that would
follow you donít care two straws about whether you are good at office politics
or not. They want you to be competent and know what you are doing. Thatís what
counts for them. So, your office politicking may get you promoted, but it will
not win the respect of those you want to follow you. Only what you know and what
you can do will do that.
Declare your expectations. You canít get there until you
know where there is. Decide on your ďthereĒ and then continually promote
your goals, objectives, and vision.
Show uncommon commitment. You can bet no one else is going
to be committed to your goals if you arenít.
Expect positive results. Winners expect to win and losers
expect to lose. Vincent Lombardi, one of the greatest football coaches of all
time said, ďWe never lose, but sometimes the clock runs out on us.Ē You can
expect positive results and still not get exactly what you want. But, research
demonstrates that those who ďthink positiveĒ achieve more wins than losses
and overall better results than those that donít.
Take care of your people or customers. If you take care of
them, they will take care of you. The reverse is also true.
Put duty before self. As a leader, you have a duty to
accomplish the mission you are assigned, and you have a duty to take care of
those who follow you. Sometimes the mission must come first, sometimes your
followers comes first. However, the interests of both must always come before
the personal interests or well-being of the leader.
Get out in front. This law includes setting the example, and
being where the action is. Donít sit in an air-conditioned office making
decisions and call that leadership. Go out and talk to your people. See whatís
going on and be seen. Thatís leadership!
Not like this in your company or with your boss? Well, how do you like to
follow a leader who disregards the eight universal laws? Are you happy with
working for such a leader? Do you want to do the best that you possibly can for
him or her? Probably not.